Gender Conformity in Action

Sometimes, gender conformity can get people to do strange things.  Some students at Mississippi State University conducted a social psychology experiment in the lobby of a building:

Experiment: Conformity to gender roles. We placed common male and female signs on opposite transparent doors instructing people to walk through the correct entrance.

Here is a video of their experiment:


It’s interesting that you can manipulate people into altering their everyday behaviors through gender conformity.  Gender and its social dictates serve as a powerful, yet subtle source of influence over human behavior.  It guides everything from choices in clothing to how we relate to inanimate objects and animals.

Here’s another experiment: make a list of everyday activities or behaviors that you engage in during the course of a day that are influenced by gender.  Now, what’s on your list?

(via: The Situationist)

Edited to add: “make a list of everyday activities or behaviors

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~ by timberwraith on June 28, 2009.

4 Responses to “Gender Conformity in Action”

  1. The part that seems to me the most interesting is second 50 when what looks like a couple actually split apart to go through the correct doors, then merge again on the other side…

    The sad thing is I think I’d do the same if I just walked up to some doors with those labels.

    Choosing doors aside, are there really that many other gender influenced activities in my day? Hmm… I can’t really think of them, but that may be because they seem typical… like the way I cook or something maybe…

  2. I just edited the question. The way I originally worded the question didn’t quite capture the point I was trying to illustrate, although I can think of several activities that are often influenced by gender.

    Try it now. I’ll bet your list will be considerably longer.

  3. I love experiments like this that show how deeply we’ve internalized the message that everything must be differentiated according to gender. It’s kind of sad that hardly anybody showed surprise at the signs.

    My partner and I have always been amused by the extra attention we get in public, because he’s so often engaged in nurturing activities with the kids, but the expectation is that I’ll be the one holding the baby, comforting them if they’ve fallen, pushing the stroller, etc. When we walk places I often hold the dog leash while he pushes the stroller or carries the baby, and you can tell that people find this strange and think it’s supposed to be the other way around.

    And my favorite way that gender is so invisibly influential is in the way men and women occupy space. On shared seats in buses and subways, and on park benches, men sprawl out and take up lots of space while women are expected to keep their knees pressed tightly together and their elbows firmly at their sides. When walking down the sidewalk, women generally take much smaller strides relative to the length of their legs and are expected to alter their path in order to avoid colliding with a man who’s walking toward them. Once you stop doing this, many men will almost run into you before changing their path at the last minute, and then look back at you with this puzzled and almost offended look, like they can’t figure out what the problem was, but definitely have the feeling that you were in the wrong somehow. And walking with squared shoulders and a long confident stride gets you a lot of slightly negative and puzzled attention as well. I think the expectation that women won’t present in a confident physical manner and own their space is so subtle that people can’t articulate what’s wrong when you do present this way, but they have a deep feeling that something is amiss. Then there’s the issue of eye contact (women are not supposed to initiate eye contact, and are supposed to look away first), and apologizing (women apologize twice as often, and for things that aren’t their fault, while men are socialized not to apologize as often, even when something really was their fault). To me these are all subtle markers of hierarchy, and when you violate them, the responses you get are very telling.

    Great post!

  4. Ah, so behaviors even like walking down the street and who I would move out of the way to avoid walking into. I’m not really sure how many if any such behaviors I have, I’ll have to keep an eye open for a few days and see what happens.

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